UG Columnist Ralph Welch discusses Michael Chandler’s big win, Josh Barnett’s future, Michael Bisping’s D-Day and the return of Mike Goldberg.
Chandler emerges from Alvarez shadow
As the protracted Eddie Alvarez saga rumbles on, it was pleasing to see Bellator lightweight champion Michael Chandler command some of the media spotlight this week.
Amidst all the contractual conjecture around potential pay-per-view points and locker room bonuses, it seems to have been forgotten that Chandler is the man who defeated Alvarez in the most stellar fight of 2011.
If it’s been troublesome seeing his former foe map out his financial future so publicly, then there’s been no outward sign of it.
Chandler (11-0) conducts his media interviews with an enthusiasm and respect that puts the surly efforts of one or two more experienced household names to shame.
And he delivers in the cage too. Last night’s mauling of Rick Hawn sent a statement to the Bellator brass that if they’re looking for a leader in this brave new dawn of Spike TV and Viacom, they need look no further.
“Warmaster” seeks new conquest
A man who may be on the Bellator radar is heavyweight Josh Barnett. The Pride, Pancrase, UFC and Strikeforce veteran (32-6) is one of the hottest commodities on the open market having become a free agent after Strikeforce officially closed for business last week.
One aspect that may repel potential suitors is the hefty price tag that comes with a name of Barnett’s magnitude. He pocketed a cool $250k for his effortless first round deconstruction of a horrendously over-matched Nandor Guelmino at the Strikeforce farewell. By anybody’s standards, that’s a handsome reward for an outing that was little more than another day at the office.
“The Warmaster” claims that he’s willing to travel the globe in search of new conquests, however he’ll find his options limited if he’s expecting similar paychecks. Realistically, only the UFC and the resurgent Bellator, buoyed by the deep pockets of Viacom, could put that sort of money on the table without incurring an uncomfortable amount of risk.
Barnett spent this past week fielding questions about his next destination and the situation remains unclear. He appeared at Bellator last night in support of his fighting friends whilst his profile simultaneously appeared on UFC.com, teasing a return to the Zuffa ranks.
Barnett has openly admitted that his troubled history with UFC President Dana White makes re-signing for his former employers somewhat problematic, but by no means impossible. Their financial might makes this the most likely outcome.
Yet one suspects that Bellator, given their links to professional wrestling organisation TNA, would offer a more natural home to a showman who has already performed in the squared circle.
However, this week Bellator CEO Bjorn Rebney dismissed that suggestion. Whether that was Rebney, currently knee-deep in the messy Eddie Alvarez legal battle, shying away from another public bidding war remains to be seen.
What cannot be denied is that a man of Barnett’s talents and experience can still mix in world-class company.
He likens himself to a modern-day MMA mercenary, a gun for hire with a colourful history. But the future could still be profitable for both himself and whoever invests in Barnett’s brand name.
Show him the money.
Bisping calm ahead of D-Day
Despite being little more than 24 hours from the most important fight of his career, there’s a noticeable calm about middleweight contender Michael Bisping.
The Englishman (27-4) has landed in Brazil ahead of a bout with legendary octagon artist Vitor Belfort knowing that victory guarantees him a shot at reigning middleweight kingpin Anderson Silva.
Bisping has been within touching distance of title glory before only to fall at the last hurdle. In 2009 he circled the octagon at UFC 100, attempting to manoeuvre past the vastly-experienced Dan Henderson in a title eliminator. Unfortunately his trajectory took him directly into the path of Henderson’s legendary H-Bomb of a right hand. MMA’s most lethal weapon robbed Bisping both of his senses and the chance to fulfil a lifetime ambition.
It’s been a long way back for Bisping, sprinkled with moments of controversy, but stints as a coach on the Ultimate Fighter and filling in at short notice versus Chael Sonnen in 2012 have firmly established him as a company guy.
Of all the middleweight pretenders, Silva is thought to favour Bisping because his name and reputation promise more success at the Box Office. With fellow 185lb contenders Tim Boetsch and Alan Belcher falling by the wayside, the pathway is clear for “The Count” to step into the cage with true MMA royalty.
The last obstacle comes in the form of a man who dubbed himself “a young dinosaur” during the pre-fight promotional exchanges. Roared forward by a baying crowd, Belfort will be incredibly dangerous in the early moments of this one as he attacks with his trademark savagery.
If Bisping can withstand that initial kinetic frenzy and drag Belfort into the deeper waters of rounds four and five, the dinosaur can be trapped and beaten.
Then he’ll move on to Anderson Silva, the sport’s ultimate predator.
And finally…Goldberg returns
After a health-induced hiatus from his announcing duties, Mike Goldberg will return to the commentary position at UFC on FOX 6 in Chicago.
Goldberg was replaced by Jon Anik at UFC 155 when it was announced that the veteran voice would be absent for unspecified health reasons. Anik did a remarkable job at short notice alongside the indefatigable Joe Rogan, but the more established commentary team will soon be re-united.
There have been, inevitably in this age of internet anonymity, some unkind rumours and comments about Goldberg in his absence.
Perhaps this is an occasion which proves the age-old maxim of familiarity breeding contempt. Yet we should not let that devalue Goldberg’s abilities.
Famed American lawyer and abolitionist Wendell Phillips once wrote, “If you want to be an orator, first get your great cause”. Mike Goldberg’s great cause is Mixed Martial Arts; the passion and excitement behind his narration is genuine and his words have accompanied some of the sport’s most seminal moments.
The UFC is a better place with him in it.
Welcome back, Mike.
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